How to cross a one-lane bridge in New Zealand

Learn what a one-lane bridge is, what the rules for crossing it are, and what you must do when you come across such a bridge in New Zealand.

What is a one-lane bridge?

A one-lane bridge is a bridge that has only one lane and that is usually wide enough to fit only one vehicle driving across it.

One-lane bridges are not there to irritate you or slow you down. One-lane bridges are there to help you get across rivers, streams, and other waterways.

The South Island of New Zealand is beautiful, but it also has a lot of rivers and streams, so it won’t surprise you to learn that it also has numerous one lane-bridges. It is highly likely that you will encounter one when driving in New Zealand.

It costs less money to build and maintain a single-lane bridge than it does to build a double-lane bridge, and that is one of the main reasons why they are plentiful.

More and more one-lane bridges are slowly being replaced in New Zealand with two-lane bridges where there are traffic pain-points.

But because traffic is not that dense on the South Island of New Zealand, and especially not in areas where one-lane bridges currently exist, those bridges remain in place.

If you have never driven across a one-lane bridge, you might be afraid of them at first. But there is no need to panic if you follow the rules and use common sense.

One-lane bridge rules

The first things you need to know and memorize are the signs for a one-lane bridge.

When you are approaching a one-lane bridge, you may see the text one lane bridge written vertically and directly on the road (in your lane). So that is the first sign you can look out for. As soon as you see this sign, start slowing down as you approach the bridge.

[Photo: One-lane bridge traffic sign on the South Island (69 KB)]

There are two main traffic signs for a one-lane bridge:

  1. A round sign with a red border that contains a small red arrow pointing up (that’s you) and a large black arrow pointing down (oncoming traffic).
  2. A blue rectangular sign with a large white arrow pointing up (that’s you) and a small red arrow pointing down (oncoming traffic).


The first sign means that you must stop and give oncoming traffic that wants to cross the bridge way, and the second sign means that oncoming traffic at the other end of the bridge should stop and give you way.

A good way to remember these signs is: Red means danger, so stop and give way. And all red arrows mean stop.

If the red arrow is pointing up, it means you have to give way. If the red arrow is pointing down, it means oncoming traffic needs to give you way. I typically just look for the sign with the red border, and if I see it, I stop if there are cars on the bridge.

While it is highly unlikely that you’ll get stuck on a one-lane bridge in New Zealand – at least, it has never happened to me – there are a few one-lane bridges that have pull-outs, so that you can pull your car aside if you happen to accidentally be on the bridge as another car is trying to cross it too.

The one-lane bridge just before Geraldine as you are driving from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo has such a pull-out. Pull-outs on one-lane bridges are more an exception than a rule, though, so do not rely on bridges having them.

And finally, a one-lane bridge can have traffic lights to regulate traffic crossing it.

If there are traffic lights, follow the rules for traffic lights instead of the rules for crossing one-lane bridges, unless the traffic lights are not working, in which case you must follow the rules for the traffic signs.

One-lane bridge etiquette

If you see a blue sign, it does not always mean that you can drive on without first looking what is on the bridge or on the other side of the bridge. You need to use common sense here…

If one or more cars are already on the bridge as you are approaching the bridge and you see the blue sign, you must stop before the line indicated on the road, and give those cars the opportunity to drive off the bridge.

This means that you should always slow down when you are approaching a one-lane bridge whether you see a red sign or a blue sign.

If the blue sign is on your side of the bridge and there is a very long line of cars waiting on the other side of the bridge, it is good practice (and social) to stop anyway despite having the right of way, and give way to the cars on the other side of the bridge. This is simply to keep traffic moving.

Likewise, if the red sign is on your side of the bridge and someone on the other side of the bridge was nice enough to let cars go on the bridge, but now a long line is building up on the other side of the bridge, stop and give way, so that the traffic keeps moving.

You must see this as taking turns to cross the bridge to avoid congestion when there are a lot of cars waiting to cross the bridge.

[Photo: One-lane bridge across the Dart River on the South Island (62 KB)]

Final words on one-lane bridges in New Zealand

I hope you have found this article informative and that it has put your mind at ease a bit, if not entirely, if you were feeling anxious about driving across one-lane bridges on the South Island of New Zealand.

And if it has not, just remember to slow down, stop, look, and then drive. That always works on the road. Drive safely!


This article falls under Travel Guide.

Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details
directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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